Category Archives: Energy

Moller SkyCar

Moller has a whole page dedicated to legislation, but I was not able to find anything related to security and safety. They have a safety link, but it does not go anywhere. Maybe they see the two as similar or even identical.

Their SkyCar plans are a realization of every science-fiction novel or science magazine forecast — personal passenger vehicles that fly. The upsides (pun not intended), especially when you consider the cost and harm of pavement, should be obvious. The downsides….


  1. Rules of the road
  2. Impact including noise, consumption and emission
  3. Insurance and Liability (could you blame a downdraft for an accident? who picks up the cost?)
  4. Did I mention noise?
  5. Measures of safety (is anyone expected to have a level of survivability?)

But it sure looks cool, and I look forward to the end of the pavement era. Asphalt was a horrible idea, as proven by the ongoing pot-hole and lack-of-timely maintenance culture it created.

As people talk about forcing file sharing users to pay a fair share for network consumption/load, I wonder what ever happened to forcing the largest vehicles to pay a fair share of the space they occupy, the heaviest vehicles to pay a fair share of the pavement repairs, or the most polluting vehicles to pay a fair share of the controls to offset their output.

Three Weeks Wasted for Every Year of Work in LA

The Courage Campaign has posted an interesting chart of productive time wasted due to traffic congestion in Los Angeles:


They contend that for every year of work a person does in the office, three weeks worth of time is wasted in a car.

Availability also must be a worry, especially in cases of regional disasters, as congestion can only get worse when everyone has to act at the same time (in response) rather than with the intent to keep their own schedule.

Walk, Don’t Run. Drive, Don’t Walk.

Energy consumption and emission is the focus of this mind-bending, paradigm-shifting article in the Times Online.

Walking does more than driving to cause global warming, a leading environmentalist has calculated.

Similarly, it seems an airline mogul has been pointing out that beef eaters are a bigger problem for the environment than those who fly:

Michael O’Leary, boss of the budget airline Ryanair, has been widely derided after he was reported to have said that global warming could be solved by massacring the world’s cattle. “The way he is running around telling people they should shoot cows,” Lawrence Hunt, head of Silverjet, another budget airline, told the Commons Environmental Audit Committee. “I do not think you can really have debates with somebody with that mentality.”

Statistics are a funny thing, as everyone from Groucho Marx to Mark Twain has famously observed. The question is, however, what really impacts people in their daily life.

The ideal diet would consist of cereals and pulses. “This is a route which virtually nobody, apart from a vegan, is going to follow,” Mr Goodall said. But there are other ways to reduce the carbon footprint. “Don’t buy anything from the supermarket,” Mr Goodall said, “or anything that’s travelled too far.”

And to think that kids who sat on the couch and ate bowls of cereal were derided for not keeping a healthy lifestyle. Little did we know they were really trying to save the planet…if you don’t count the marathon television and video game sessions.

The Challenges of a Bio-Refinery Model

The problem with starting a company that is supposed to be good for the environment is that the owners have a big moral dilemma (e.g. a market opportunity) when faced with the waste (e.g. byproducts) they produce.

The NYT reports that industrial chemists in America are seeking ways to make profit from biofuel beyond its primary use. Scientists are working on disposal alternatives for fuel byproduct:

In another lab at Iowa State, Robert C. Brown is using distillers’ dry grain —a main byproduct of corn ethanol that is largely sold as animal feed — to produce hydrogen and a compound called PHA. Mr. Brown hopes his version of PHA, which is biodegradable, could be used for surgical gowns and gloves that must now be disposed of as medical waste.

Ethanol as a fuel is as much a dead-end for our general welfare as corn-syrup is for food, but don’t try to tell that to an industry trying to squeeze every penny out of crops while externalizing risks. Concerns for the welfare of the planet, let alone a fellow human, are not the usual rules of game here. The value system underlying the research is based on the much older highly-industrialized model of finding profit in areas without regulation (e.g. to ensure health). The news these days usually attributes this kind of risky behavior to China , rather than right in our own back yard.

The price of glycerol, now 20 to 50 cents a pound, could drop as low as 5 cents a pound as biodiesel production increases.

Mr. Kraus [professor of chemistry at Iowa State] said the higher quality glycerol made with the new process could command a much higher price. “What we see,” he said, “is an opportunity to make something that might cost 80 cents a pound.”

Money talks. In sum, it appears that the bio-fuel innovators are starting to try and emulate the model they think of as successful:

This, in turn, could help transform the biodiesel industry into something that more closely resembles the petroleum industry, where fuel is just one of many profitable products.

“Just like petroleum refineries make more than one product that are the feedstock for other industries, the same will have to be true for biofuels,” said Kenneth F. Reardon, a professor of chemical and biological engineering at Colorado State University in Fort Collins. “Biorefining is what the vision has to look like in the end.”

The problem with this is that the petroleum industry model is unhealthy. It puts the environment, including human health, low on the list of priorities for success.

In an emerging market where health and the environment threaten to be a top priority, a big paradigm shift for the vision of a bio-refinery seems like a sensible conclusion. More than one product, indeed, but waste disposal should have a whole new meaning. Or as the Director of Beijing Olympics cycling events put it recently

[President of the International Olympic Committee] Rogge’s comment reminds us that we have to work harder to fix environmental problems.

Couldn’t have said it better myself. After billions have been spent, pollution and waste are still a problem, which means a market opportunity of many more billions ahead.